considered an ideal size today. Sizing is no longer done using a simple piece of plastic with different sized holes in it either. Today, a machine sizes fruit at the same time as it sorts out defects and sorts by colour, so the pack is uniform. B.C. cherry exports today are worth some $90 million, while exports to new markets in China alone, are valued at $25 million.
Some years ago it was
As general manager of the Plant
Improvement Company of the
Automation technology has replaced hand-held cherry sizers like this.
discovered there was more money in the export market. But that market demanded a higher quality fruit, particularly as far as firmness is concerned, but also colour, sugar content and flavour.
“We tend to grow a darker-coloured cherry than in other regions. They have more flavour and sweetness. In some cultures a box of cherries would be taken as a gift, just like a bouquet of flowers is here. They’re expensive: $20 a pound, so you don’t just sit down and eat a bowl like we do. It’s set on the table and everyone enjoys looking at it—like flowers,” he explains.
In order to extend the season, growers today need to grow a mix of different cherry varieties. However, he points out, there are risk issues with the late season ones as well, since they’re on the tree a month longer, so there’s more time for something to go wrong. B.C. does have a good cherry- producing climate: dry, with good winters so the tree goes into dormancy, ready for a good spring bloom. The lack of rainfall helps reduce the number of diseases they’re vulnerable to, he notes.
Growing regions such as California and Chile don’t have as friendly a climate. But even though Chile grows poorer quality varieties than B.C., it ships into the global market at a season when there’s little competition, and they’re grown on huge farms.
Calissi notes that you can breed and develop a new variety of apple or cherry with lots of popular attributes, but if you don’t market it properly, you’ve wasted your time and effort. Such was the case with the Ambrosia apple, a chance seedling discovered by Wilf and Sally Mennell in their Cawston orchard.
British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2018 13
Okanagan, now the Summerland Varieties Corporation, owned by the B.C. Fruit Growers
Association, from 2002 to 2006, Calissi discovered that to sell a new variety to a grocery chain, it was necessary to have enough of it available to service all of their customers.
That was a ‘bit of a chicken and egg’ thing because growers were reluctant to plant large quantities of the new variety without confidence it would be marketed successfully.
Thus, Ambrosia became a ‘managed variety’ with limited distribution and it has proven to be extremely popular and successful.
Today, he needs to make educated guesses as to how many rootstocks of which varieties his customers will want to plant in the spring in their nurseries, because his orders have to be in early.
In fact, growers need to realize they can’t just decide over the Christmas holidays what they’ll plant in the spring.
Orders for rootstocks need to be in to him before Christmas, and for young trees, growers have to order ahead three years.
“Planning is important. You have to order rootstocks eight months in advance, and leading edge stuff like the new dwarfing rootstocks for cherries are hard to find,” he warns. He also reminds growers that
before switching crops, they need to identify a market for the crop they’re planning to put in, whether that’s a contract with a winery for grapes, or whatever. Growers need to pay attention to markets and to promote their product, he advises. Today’s high-density orchards require far more intensive capital to replant, so it’s even more important they pay off at the end of the day, he adds.
Much larger acreages are being replanted today than in the past, so a lot of money is at stake.
And, there’s always the possibility that a rootstock won’t turn into a tree. Some won’t take; some you’ll drive over with the tractor. There are always unforeseen circumstances you need to be prepared for, Calissi warns.
And, with cherries, not all will produce an 8-row quality fruit. Some will not produce export-quality fruit and instead that fruit will have to be sold into domestic markets. It’s still a high-risk crop, he reminds growers thinking of replanting to cherries.
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